Being All In For Christ

Yesterday I attended Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes, where my friend and colleague Fr. Dan Griffith (who is the pastor at Lourdes) said the Mass.

The first reading was a beautiful passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Paul begins by speaking of that fact that preaching the Gospel is an obligation, not a do-it-or-not act. One can hear in his words the depth of his passion for carrying his charge.

Although I am free in regard to all,
I have made myself a slave to all
so as to win over as many as possible.
I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
All this I do for the sake of the Gospel,
so that I too may have a share in it.

Fr. Dan talked about Paul’s passion for his ministry, describing him as being “all in for Christ.”

It is a good description of what our discipleship demands of us – being all in. Not: I’ll evangelize now and then when I can spare a minute from the rest of my activities. Not: I’ll slot God at the end of the work week. But being all in – with our total being every step of the way. The difference between God is my hobby and God is my life.

And it was Paul’s being all in that allowed him to go out as effectively as he did to the various communities to whom he preached.

Be all in for Christ. Go all out for Christ. It’s pretty straightforward.

Yesterday was the first session of an 8-session program series I will be offering at UST Law School over the course of this academic year on Discerning My Place in the World.

As I suggested in the description for the program, law school is, among other things, a three-year process whereby students discern what will be their place in the legal profession and in the world. I do not mean to suggest vocational discernment ends when students graduate. Discernment is a life-long process, as our calling changes from time to time. (And while most of the participants in our spiritual formation programs are law students, participants often include faculty and staff who are long out of school.)

The series will address a series of topics relating to vocational discernment. Today’s subject was Recognizing Our Gifts.

I began by introducing the series and then offered some reflections relating both to recognizing our own gifts and recognizing the gifts of others. I then gave the participants time for individual reflection, after which we had some time for sharing of their reflection experience.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 22:04 and there is a short pause where I invited the participants to introduce themselves.) A copy of the prayer material I distributed is here.

Earlier this week my friend Gene shared that, after going through security in an airport the prior day, he saw a mural of the American flag. He described the way the red and white stripes shimmered in a way that caught his eye causing him to look more closely. As he did, he saw that there were many names written there – the names of those who lost their lives in 9/11 – including the name Michael F. Stabile. As I read his description of his feelings at seeing the name of my father’s youngest brother, my eyes filled with tears.

Thirteen years and I still cry when I think of that day. Why? I know that the world has seen far worse than the attack on the World Trade Center that day. I know that people suffer every day from the loss of family members through war and acts of terror and other acts of violence.

I don’t know what it is like to live in a land in which bombs fall as a matter of course. I don’t know what it is like to go to bed at night and wonder if you or your bed will still be there in the morning. But I know that I can close my eyes and still see the ash on the fire trucks in NYC and the debris in the streets of lower Manhattan and the smell of smoke. And I still feel the pain of the loss of a family member, a friend and the sibling of another friend.

Last year, I offered a brief reflection at our Weekly Manna gathering on 9/11. I spoke about what it means to say “Blessed are they who mourn” in the context of my experience of 9/11.

You can access a recording of that reflection here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 12:10.

In the 2000 movie Pay it Forward, a young schoolboy comes up with an ingenious idea to change the world for the better. His idea is to help three people do something they can’t do for themselves, and to ask them, instead of paying him back, to thank him by giving help to three other people, who in turn will give thanks by doing something for three other people, and so on. Not a great film, but the pay it forward idea has power.

I’ve mentioned that we recently moved to St. Paul. Shortly after we moved, my friend Steve came for a visit. Upon his departure last Tuesday morning, he told me he had ordered a gift that we would receive two days later.

The day came and went and no package arrived. A couple of days later, I checked with Steve and we realized that he sent the package to the wrong address: my new house number is 1544 and he sent it to 544.

We gave the package up for lost. But several days later I received an e-mail with the re line, “Might I have your package?” The person who lived at 544 tracked me down, having found a package with my name outside of his door. Not only that, but rather than asking me to come get it, he dropped it by house the other day.

When I wrote again to say thank you, he wrote back saying, “No trouble at all. All I ask is that you pay it forward to someone else someday!”

I smiled when I read it. What better payback for a kindness than to pay it forward. And I plan to.

In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus instructs his disciples in how to deal with someone who has wronged them. First, the wronged individual should speak to the wrongdoer and try to help him see his transgression. If that doesn’t work, one must take a couple of others to help the person see his fault. If that fails, bring the church community to help speak to him. Jesus ends his instruction with words we are all familiar with: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

I resonated with the temptation Kayla McClurg speaks of in her commentary on this passage:

Sometimes, in a blissfully quiet moment, or when we are tired and disappointed in ourselves and others, we hear a sneaky little voice telling us we might be better off attempting this journey alone. We can discern our own callings, read thought-provoking books, join an online community, work on loving humanity while avoiding actual people.

As tempting as that can be, as McClurg reminds, “for better and for worse, we are not alone. We have companions.”

Speaking of Jesus’ instruction, she writes:

Jesus says, I know your community, how obstinate and annoying they can be, how they sometimes speak ill of you and blame you for their own problems. I called all of you together, remember? What I’d like for you to learn is not to puff up like a self-righteous toad, or point out how highly regarded and generally well-liked you are. No, this is the time to practice what I have told you will be your primary work—forgive, and live in peace. First, go right to the source of your pain and say what is bothering you. Who knows, maybe you old scoundrels will hear each other this time. You’ll both have a laugh and be done with it. If you get no response, go again and take one or two others along. If the person who is on the outs with you still won’t listen, go to the entire church membership. Not to prove how right you are, but because this is the group that is committed to forgiving one another as I have forgiven you. Together you share responsibility for finding ways to live together in the bonds of unity and peace.

Did you forget that this is the final goal? Not to make everyone feel better, not to decide who is right and wrong, but to bring back together whatever has come apart—to mend whatever breaks.

An important reminder. We are a community, members of the Body of Christ. And we correct another, not to prove we are right, but because of our commitment to living together in unity and peace; our goal is bring back together what has come apart.

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus tells his disciples that “No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one” and “no one pours new wine into old wineskins.”

As I was praying with those words this morning, I recalled a pray by Ed Hays, titled A Psalm of New Wine Skins. I have sometimes offered it to retreatants for their prayer and I offer it to you this morning.

Comfortable and well-worn are my daily paths
whose edges have grown gray with constant use.

My daily speech is a collection of old words
worn down at the heels by repeated use.
My language and deeds, addicted to habit,
prefer the taste of old wine, the feel of weathered skin.

Come and awaken me, Spirit of the new.
Come and refresh me, Creator of green life.
Come and inspire me, Risen Son,
you who make all things new:
I am too young to be dead, to be stagnant in spirit.

I fear,
High are the walls that guard the old,
the tried and secure ways of yesterday
that protect me from the dreaded plague,
the feared heresy of change.
For all change is a danger to the trusted order,
the threadbare traditions that are maintained
by the narrow ruts of rituals.

Yet how can an everlasting new covenant
retain its freshness and vitality
without injections of the new,
the daring and the untried?

My desire is,
Come, O you who are ever-new,
wrap my heart in new skin,
ever flexible to be reformed by your Spirit.
Set my feet to fresh paths this day:
inspire me to speak original and life-giving words and to
creatively give shape to the new.

Come and teach me how to dance with delight
whenever you send a new melody my way.

St. Gregory the Great

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Gregory the Great, pope and Doctor of the Church, and a man who had tremendous influence on the development of the Church. (His Liber pastoralis curae, his book on the office of a bishop, was for centuries the textbook of the Catholic episcopate.)

Gregory was a prolific and influential writer as well as a good shepherd to his people. He did much to help the poor and, even as pope, lived in monastic simplicity. Perhaps one of the highest praises that can be offered of him is that he practiced what he preached.

In honor of his memorial, I want to share again words of his I shared once before: Gregory’s thoughts on what it means to deny ourselves, which I find very helpful.

We abandon ourselves, we deny ourselves, when we escape what we were in our old state and strive toward what we are called to be in our new one. Let us consider how Paul, who said, “It is no longer I who live,” had denied himself. The cruel persecutor had been destroyed and the holy preacher had begun to live. If he had remained himself, he would not have been holy. But let the one who denied that he was alive tell us how it came about that he proclaimed holy words through the teaching of the truth. Immediately after saying, “It is no longer I who live,” he added “but Christ lives in me.” It is as if he were saying, “I have indeed been destroyed by myself since I no longer live unspiritually; but according to my essential being I am not dead since I am spiritually alive in Christ.

We sometimes think denying ourselves and taking up our cross as something unpleasant, something that must involve suffering. Gregory’s words express it in much more positive terms: denying ourselves, taking up our cross, means taking on Christ. Dying to all that is sinful – all that is not God in us – and allowing Christ more and more to live in us. Far from suffering, that sounds pretty darn attractive.

St. Gregory the Great, pray for us.


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